Baby Brain Only Minor: How Pregnant Women Can Reduce Its Impact

Many mothers know the term baby brain. It describes the phenomenon of decreased memory during pregnancy. During my pregnancies, I worked well into the third trimester with no problems but did note the occasional odd memory lapse such as turning up to appointments on completely the wrong day something that had previously never happened to me.
A recent meta-analysis study by Deakin University examined baby brain in 20 studies looking at 1200 women. It found that baby brain was real but minor in its impact, with pregnant women having reduced cognitive function compared to non-pregnant women. Four out of five pregnant women experienced these symptoms.
“General cognitive functioning, memory, and executive functioning were significantly reduced during the third trimester of pregnancy, but not during the first two trimesters,” the authors wrote.
Published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the study found minor changes in cognitive function in pregnant women occurring early in pregnancy. Most changes did not become noticeable until the third trimester.
Women need not worry about baby brain as the cognitive lapses experienced were most commonly minor such as forgetting or failing to book appointments rather than an inability to perform at work. The researchers suggest that the results were consistent with recent findings of long term reactions in brain grey matter occurring during pregnancy.
According to lead author Sasha Davies:

“An intriguing study published last year showed there are reductions in grey matter in the brains of pregnant women in regions known to be closely tied to processing social information, such as decoding infant facial expressions and establishing healthy bonding between mum and baby. This presents a compelling idea that ‘baby brain’ is actually an important adaptive phenomenon that might help women prepare for raising their children by allowing their brains to adapt to their new role as new mothers.”

The researchers said that women reported changes to their executive functioning such as having more difficulty multi-tasking. “Women often report that multi-tasking seemed to be a bit harder [during pregnancy], and we found that was the case,” says co-author Linda Byrne.
The researchers suggested a range of things pregnant women can try to maximize their brain capacity whilst pregnant. These included:

  • Good sleep hygiene. Making sure you are well rested is important particularly in the first and last trimesters. The first and third trimesters are when pregnant women feel most fatigued so ensure adequate rest during these periods.
  • Maintaining good nutrition and exercise habits
  • Make use of memory aids, such as phone apps and reminders
  • Even if your memory was previously good making lists and writing reminders is a good way of just making sure that important things are not missed

It seems that baby brain is real, but only minor in its impact and may serve a function to help us be parents. More research is needed to learn how long it takes women’s baby brain to bounce back to normal after birth. If you experience baby brain when pregnant, rather than panicking about your mental state, using memory aid techniques and looking after your general well-being will likely limit any potential impact of temporary cognitive changes associated with pregnancy.

Why You May Want to Hide the Ibuprofen Bottle From Your Husband If You Are Trying to Get Pregnant

Getting pregnant is not a walk in the park for every couple who dreams of becoming parents. According to the CDC, one in 8 couples (or 12 percent of married women) in the United States have trouble getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. Approximately one-third of infertility is attributed to the female partner, one-third to the male partner, and one-third is caused by a combination of problems in both partners or is unexplained.
If a couple is struggling to get pregnant, the last thing they want is another component in their lives that could inhibit fertility. Now a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shocked many by concluding that one of the most common over-the-counter medications used – ibuprofen – can impact male fertility.
Every day millions of people turn to ibuprofen to relieve headaches, fever symptoms, joint pain, muscle aches, and more. We are now learning that this pain reliever can have a negative impact on the testicles of young men. This current study was a follow up to previous research that explored the health effects as a result of pregnant women taking any one of three mild pain relievers: aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. Those studies showed that when taken during pregnancy, all three medicines increased the likelihood that male babies would be born with congenital malformations of their testicles. Therefore, these drugs are anti-androgenic, which means they disrupt male hormones.
Following those studies, scientists wanted to explore if the medications would directly affect grown men. The research team recruited 31 male volunteers between the ages of 18 and 35. Fourteen of them were given a daily dose of ibuprofen: 600 milligrams twice a day, which is the maximum limit per instructions on ibuprofen bottles. The remaining 17 volunteers were given a placebo.
Within 14 days, the men taking ibuprofen showed a decrease in the level of luteinizing hormones, which is a sign of dysfunctional testicles associated with infertility. The researchers are not yet sure if the effects from the ibuprofen will be reversible over time.
Although small, this study is especially important because most drugs are not evaluated for their effects on human male fertility. However, one of the scientists involved in the study told CNN that there is evidence that some medications are harmful to the male reproductive system, including testosterone, opioids, antidepressants, antipsychotics, immune modulators, and even the over-the-counter antacid cimetidine (Tagamet).
Yet these adverse effects are rarely communicated to patients. Therefore, this news about ibuprofen and infertility may bring attention to the use of certain medications and help many couples who hope to be parents someday. It is also critical because a father’s use of ibuprofen may impact his children as well.
Overall, experts recommend that men who are planning to father a child should avoid ibuprofen and the other drugs shown to influence fertility. Although this new study indicates that ibuprofen disrupts the reproductive hormones in healthy young men, it is also possible that there is an even greater negative effect in men who already experience low fertility.
Finally, we will have to keep a look out for additional studies to see if taking common medications like ibuprofen can impact young boys and adolescent boys. Is it possible that taking ibuprofen for a headache at a young age can later impact that boy’s chance of becoming a dad? Every parent will certainly want to know the answer to that question.

Stop in the Name of Hormones: When Puberty Meets Perimenopause

I do not want a she-shed, even though I love to craft. I’d prefer to call it a hormone time-out hut. My dream hormone hut wouldn’t be mine alone. My ‘tween and teen would be welcome to share.

I never planned on puberty and perimenopause in the same house, but here they are. If you have dueling hormones in your home, follow a few simple steps to bring peace without having to build a hut in your backyard.

The two P’s

In 2017, the CDC put the average age of first-time moms at 28. There are many reasons behind that number. Women are waiting to get married and/or have kids because of careers.

I didn’t get married until my late 20’s. I had my kids at 29 and 34, so I fall right in that age-28 average. My mom had me at 22. By the time she was 47, I was almost married. By the time I turned 47, my kids were 12 and 16. That’s a big difference in ages. And in hormones.

“Since the changes of perimenopause may precede menopause by as many as 10 years, daughters often begin puberty around the same time their mothers begin perimenopause,” reports Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D.

I cringed when the doctor wrote AMA (Advanced Maternal Age) on my pregnancy chart. I did the math when I got pregnant. I knew I would be 53 when my youngest graduated high school. What I didn’t count on or know about was the collision of perimenopause and puberty. While my kids are both getting hormones as a ‘tween and teen, my own hormones are apparently beginning to run away.

If you’re a mom in the same boat, here are my tips on finding peace (even without a hormone hut) in your house.

The growth of the Hormone Monster

I’ve been to several parenting seminars and read more books on puberty than I can count. At one of the seminars, the speaker pointed out the first sign of pending puberty wasn’t hair or crying or boobs or even sweatiness. She told us that our kids’ feet growing was the literal biggest indicator that puberty was on the horizon.

Sure enough, Kid One went from a kid’s size shoe to a man’s size 15 in less than a year. Kid Two got woman-sized feet long before boobs. Big Foot-level hairiness definitely followed. Those feet were harbingers of hormonal doom.

My first big tip: watch the feet. Once kids cross into adult sizes, a hormone explosion may be lurking around the corner.

H-H-A-L-T

When my kids were toddlers, I swore by the acronym HALT (Hungry-Angry-Lonely-Tired) to see why they were acting they way they were. With puberty and perimenopause running amok in our house, I’ve added another H to the acronym. Are you hormonal? Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? All of the above? Get thee to the hormone hut. Or get thee to the snack basket and some Midol.

The Ancient Bird and the Very Young Bees

It hit me one day: every person in my house “could” get pregnant or get someone pregnant. In that vein, no one in the house wants to be pregnant or will be getting anyone pregnant. At 47, that would put me at 65 when a third child would graduate high school.

Having to chat about my still-present fertility while threatening my children within an inch of their fertile selves was maybe the most uncomfortable part of “The Talk.” They didn’t want to think about me getting pregnant. Or about what causes that. And they still (fingers crossed forever) think that it’s a gross proposition for themselves.

My mom did very little talking and I consequently did very little understanding of what was going on with me or her. While initially “The Talk” isn’t fun, continuing to talk is crucial. Even if the experience is uncomfortable, it’s necessary.

Go to the doctor hut

A pediatrician only treats your kids so far. Our doctor is board-certified for kids and adults so we’ve discussed everything about puberty with him. When the hormones hit, it may be time to visit the gynecologist with daughters if your doctor only treats younger children. Your doctor that has monitored everything from growth charts to vaccines should also discuss puberty.

Ask questions. What’s normal? What’s your opinion of the HPV vaccine? And Mom, you should also get your hormone levels checked.

Be empathetic

I’ve think that there’s a positive in going through enormous hormonal changes at the same time as my kids. It’s that I’m going through enormous hormonal changes at the same time as my kids.

When they sweat at new levels, I can empathize because I have the beginning of hot flashes. When they start shaving for the first time, we can share the bloody tissue-paper covered shins. (I still haven’t figured out a way to avoid that disaster.)

Hormones can keep both adults and teens up at night and there’s honestly someone in my house crying most days. While they don’t always want to or have the ability to explain why they’re crying (and I definitely don’t always know the origin of my own tears), empathy is key. Sometimes, just sitting next to them and listening is helpful. Sometimes, staying outside of the slammed door is a better choice.

While it isn’t always fun being in the same hormone hut as my kids, the truth is that it’s better because we are together. If you find yourself in the same situation, use empathy even in the midst of your own hormone experience.

Writing the story

My kids and I started to exchange journals at the beginning of the hormone journey. They leave the simple composition notebooks outside their door with notes to me when it’s too hard or too embarrassing to talk. I respond and put the notebooks back in their rooms. The journals are a way they can open up communication without direct conversation.

If you start a similar journal exchange, be prepared for hard and easy questions. Sometimes I just get a simple “thank you” note written on one line. Introducing some form of the no-judgment, no face-to-face conversation can be one way to get hormonal kids to open up, even if it’s just on paper.

You are not alone

Almost all of my mom friends are around my age or older. While we lament and compare some of the changes our kids are going through, it’s much harder (and usually communicated in side whispers) to discuss our own hormonal changes. Open up dialogue in your mom network about your experiences too.

Craft it out

While there won’t be an actual hormone hut growing in my backyard, I am on this hormonal adventure with my kids. Occasionally man-o-pause even rears its hormonal head. By exercising empathy and being aware of the effects of hormones at both ends of the scale, our house is much more peaceful.

When it gets really bad, I may still craft and eat chocolate in my closet. I know I not the only one hiding in a closet with a glue gun and a Hershey bar.

What We Can Learn When We Stop Making Fun of the Raw Water Trend

We’re used to seeing words like “natural” and “organic” used to sell us more expensive food. The latest trend in food purity campaigns? Raw water.

We’re used to seeing words like “natural” and “organic” used to sell us more expensive produce, nuts, and sugar. The latest trend in food purity campaigns? Raw water.
New companies are now selling customers unfiltered, untreated, and extremely expensive water. The movement, according to a December 2017 article in the New York Times, has grown in part from skepticism about water treatment practices in the United States, whether that’s concern over fluoride supplementation or lead pipes.
The Twitter response to the Times’ coverage flowed like your colon is apt to do after drinking unfiltered water:


Live Water, one of the companies profiled in the New York Times’ coverage, acknowledged the resulting “media controversy” and recently defended the safety of its product. Live Water describes its water source as “an ancient aquifer that we have extensively tested and has shown no harmful contamination what so ever [sic]. Water is collected from the covered spring head, so there is no chance for surface bacterias [sic] to enter the water.”
The terminology appears scientific. A “covered spring head” sounds like a safety device, but a “spring head” is simply the part of a spring that comes out of the ground. A “covered spring head” could mean a plastic cover on top of the spring, or even just a rock enclosure. There’s no reason to assume that harmful bacteria couldn’t enter that water source, because covered spring head or no, animals choose to defecate wherever they please. Furthermore, even “ancient” aquifers, while acting as nature’s coffee filters, do not filter out all kinds of bacteria.
The grammar errors in Live Water’s hastily-written response to the Times’ negative publicity should suggest that Live Water’s claims have not undergone thorough peer review. Those looking to read more about those claims should read fact-checking site Snopes’ analysis of Live Water’s scientific claims about raw water. There’s no strong evidence that “raw” water provides any health benefits over filtered, treated water. There is plenty of evidence that treated water has changed the world for the better.
Obviously, our country’s drinking water is not without problems. It’s unconscionable that it was just last week, nearly four years from the start of its water crisis, that Flint, Michigan’s water quality was declared restored. But raw spring water is not the answer to these problems. Just ask the citizens of Puerto Rico (many of whom are still in the dark, by the way), who still don’t have reliably safe drinking water. Clean drinking water is perhaps the greatest human invention since fire (which allowed for the boiling and subsequent sanitation of water). In fact, it’s hard to overstate the importance of learning that diseases can be conveyed by water.
In “The Ghost Map” author Steven Johnson explains how physician Jon Snow ended a medical crisis and essentially founded the field of epidemiology when he started marking deaths from cholera cases on a map. Snow’s map allowed him to identify the source of water common to all of the cases. The end to the cholera epidemic was astoundingly simple: authorities removed the handle from the Broad Street Pump and people stopped getting sick. (Sidebar: I haven’t confirmed this with George R. R. Martin, but it’s hard not to see the similarities between his Jon Snow in “Game of Thrones” and the historical counterpart. Both are men who recognized evidence of a sweeping plague before everyone around them took notice. Maybe in the next season Jon Snow should check the water sources north of The Wall.)
Many critics of raw water consumers are comparing the pseudo-scientific arguments for raw water to those made by anti-vaccination activists. Refuse to get vaccinated? You might get whooping cough. Refuse to drink treated water? You might get cholera. Some anti-anti-vaxxers crow about measles outbreaks affecting those who choose to go unvaccinated. It wouldn’t be surprising to see tweets celebrating the first confirmed cases of Giardia among raw water adherents.
The problem with this line of argument is that, in both cases, those on the pro-science side fail to see why the arguments against vaccination and for untreated water are so powerful. It’s easier to believe that a medical industrial complex is after your money, that the invisible regulations that have kept our water (mostly) safe are actually poisoning us, than to accept that the health conditions like autism or chronic pain or cancer have no cures. Viewed in this way, the raw water movement and others that have preceded it take root wherever there is uncertainty and doubt. In our uncertain time, is it surprising that people are willing to pay almost $15 a gallon for water that makes the future feel a little more fixed?
(Actually, make that almost $25 per gallon. The 2.5-gallon jugs of Live Water previously sold at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery for $36.99 are now going for $60.99.)
https://twitter.com/NellieBowles/status/948525485151092736

Could Acetaminophen Use Contribute to Delayed Speech Among Girls?

New research suggests that pregnant women who take Tylenol “or its equivalent) may have daughters with delayed speech.

Pregnant women acquire all different types of fun ailments, leaving them with little choices on the medications they’re allowed to take. When I was pregnant with my first, I endured immense pain surrounding the tissues around my ribs, but there was nothing I could do. I knew I had to trudge through it until my rib cage finally bellowed enough to make room for my growing baby boy. Sometimes women will take an over-the-counter acetaminophen when they have a similar pain or feel sick. But new research suggests that pregnant women who take Tylenol “or its equivalent) may have daughters with delayed speech.
It seems like a strange connection, but according to the study, daughters of women who took acetaminophen while pregnant were more likely to have delayed onset of speech. The study, found in the journal European Psychiatry, surveyed 754 pregnant Swedish women between weeks eight and 13. The questionnaire asked how often the pregnant women took acetaminophen, and the participants were also asked to include urine samples throughout the weeks to detect the acetaminophen concentration.
The children from these pregnant women were then studied. All children in Sweden were given a developmental screening at 30 months. Those who did not say 30 words at this time were categorized as having a speech and language delay. About 10 percent of children in the study had delayed speech at 30 months, with boys being the more likely gender. Boys are often much more common to have a language delay compared to their counterparts. According to the study “girls born to mothers in the high-acetaminophen group were nearly six times more likely to have language delays than girls whose mothers had used none.” The more Tylenol or its equivalent that women took and the higher the levels found in their urine, the more evidence of  language delays in the daughters. Interestingly enough, boys of mothers who took acetaminophen were not more likely to have a speech delay.
The researchers theorized that “girls around 30 months tend to have higher vocabularies than boys – a well-recognized female advantage in early-childhood language development.” So, the study found that the intake of acetaminophen reduced this advantage. Digesting acetaminophen during the early stages of pregnancy may also be linked to ADHD. Yet it is commonplace for doctors and midwives alike to tell their patients that it is okay to take the over-the-counter drug while pregnant.
Although I didn’t take acetaminophen when I was pregnant with my son, he still ended up having a speech delay. And the second time around, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I didn’t take anything, either – yet her speech soared. And now I wonder, if I had taken the over-the-counter drug, would my daughter have been a late-talker like those in the study? It’s an interesting connection, that’s for sure.
So, remember to check with your obstetrician or midwife before taking anything that you question while pregnant. Take the time to do some research on your own, too. And if you’re having a reoccurring pain or other ailment, bring up this study to your care provider. It may not be a bad idea.

Being Direct With Your Kids May Be Their Path to Avoid Unhealthy Eating

It turns out, if you want your children to avoid the consumption of junk food, being more direct may be the way to go.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I would sprint through the door after school and head straight to the kitchen. Starving, we’d run to the cupboard to choose our snacks. Doritos, Oreos, or our mother’s homemade chocolate chip cookies were almost always in plain view.
My mother, who naturally has a healthy BMI, never lectured us on our eating habits. Instead, she taught us through her actions by cooking us healthy dinners. Now that we’re adults, I wonder if we would have a different relationship with food if she had talked to us more directly when we were children.
Although there is no conclusive research yet about how mothers should talk to their children about food, a new study does suggest that obese mothers speak more directly to their children. In addition, obese mothers were just as cognizant about their child’s junk food intake compared to mothers with a healthy BMI.
Further, their children did indeed listen to their mothers. It turns out, if you want your children to avoid the consumption of junk food, being more direct may be the way to go.
The study was conducted by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and was summarized by Science Daily. Two hundred and thirty-seven women were studied as they were placed in a room with their child. The room had various foods, including chocolate cupcakes. The mothers’ communication toward their children was studied and found that obese women spoke directly to their children.
For example, they said things like, “Only eat one,” instead of a more indirect statement like, “You haven’t eaten dinner yet.” The children of the obese mothers tended to listen to their mothers fairly easily, too. Yet, expert opinion is still mixed on how parents should talk to their children regarding food intake.
There is some conflicting advice on the best approach. “On one hand,” Megan Pesch, M.D. said, “overly restricting food could backfire and actually lead to overeating. But parents also want to encourage healthy habits.”
She went on to explain that direct communication is typically easier for children to understand and follow, but there’s always that sensitivity factor when it comes to eating and weight.
The study also contested a nasty stereotype. There is often a bad perception of obese mothers and how they parent their children surrounding the topic of food. The stereotypical assumption is that they simply let their children eat whatever they want, whenever they want. The study, however, debunked this myth.
Pesch said, “The mothers we observed were on it. They were attentive and actively trying to get their children to eat less junk food.”
Judging a book by its cover in all areas of life, especially motherhood, should not be practiced. Regardless of the size of our bodies, we all want the best for our children and to see them choose a healthy lifestyle.
Whether you exercise direct or indirect communication toward your children and the food they eat, continue to have that open dialogue. Because a healthy life, without Doritos, will leave your children feeling satisfied.

Navigating Autism: Keep Looking Up

He deserves the chance to grow, thicken his skin, show others how wrong they are about him. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it.

I had one of those days yesterday, the kind that left me with a kink in my neck that prevents me from looking up from my beat-up Uggs. The kind of day that prevents me from looking up at all. Yesterday, I cried on the playground of my son’s preschool. It’s been a decade or two since I let it all out in the midst of flying balls and staring children, but let me tell you, it is still just as embarrassing.

It was only for a second. I reeled it back in as quickly as it escaped, but it lasted just long enough for me to reveal my ugly-cry face to my son’s preschool teacher. She was probably having a hard enough time already as she was coming to me to talk about my autistic son’s behaviors in a general education class.

Why is my autistic son in a general education classroom? Well, I could argue it’s for inclusion or exposure, but the truth is that I fought to keep him in the general education system because it just felt right to me, as his mom, at the time.

When Henry was not talking at all at two years old, our pediatrician suggested preschool. Get him around some other kids and the words will come, the doctor advised. Give it three months.

That’s what we did. I was so nervous putting him in preschool before he could ask for water, or even for me, but he needed something. So did I: I needed a break.

Three months came and went and, while Henry adjusted to nap-time and separation anxiety in a “typical” way, the words did not come. Instead of lessening my fears, preschool exposed new ones I had yet to discover. Still no words came. When I came to pick Henry up each day, he was always playing happily and he was also always playing alone. Maybe he was playing in close proximity to other children, but he was never playing with them.

It was like a seam in the universe was stitched between my boy and this world. While I was made aware of Henry’s solitary nature, I was always comforted by the teachers and preschool director, who patiently reminded me that some children take longer to adjust than others. We waited, and a year went by.

Within that year, we got our answer: autism. It all added up. It was a hard pill to swallow, but it also made sense. In a way, the diagnosis was preferable to the potential diagnosis. Either way, I’d be worrying, but at least now I knew why.

We did speech therapy and child development class and requested an IEP meeting with the school district. They offered us a special ed preschool program where Henry would receive speech and occupational therapy weekly and be amongst his “peers.” The school within our residence district happened to be the best program in the county. With high hopes, my mom and I went to take a tour.

We walked into each classroom with smiles on our faces, eager to hear about the different activities, but I couldn’t help notice all the self-directed children engaged in self-directed play right next to one another. When the tour came to an end, we thanked the teachers and walked to the car in silence. Opening the car door, I plopped myself into my mom’s passenger seat and began to cry.

“I don’t think I can send him here, Mom.”

She looked at me and said, “Oh honey, I’m so glad to hear you say that.”

It was my gut, my heart, and my disregard for pragmatics that led me to keep Henry at his general education preschool. At that time, the child advocate who represented us told me straight up, “I think you’re making a mistake.” I respected his honesty, but I told him that my child needs the world. He needs the world to stay with him. He needs the world to continue playing around him, circling him, while he pauses for a moment.

The world needs to be there when he wakes up. If it’s not, he may think that he’s alone and go back inside his mind to hibernate for another year. Another valuable year. I told our advocate that my son may be bullied in the general education system, but that may be better than being ignored, isolated, segregated, separated, numb, disenfranchised. I didn’t want him to be a bystander.

Maybe pain is a part of real life, and he deserves to live a real life and learn from it, as we all must. He deserves the chance to grow, thicken his skin, show others how wrong they are about him. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it. My heart knew what felt right to me as a mom. So we kept him in general education and his amazing private preschool was happy to have him stay, no questions asked.

The director of the program even shared with me that she has family members with autism and that, in her experience, social progress is the key that unlocks the doors to both speech and sensory issues. I agreed that in order for Henry to learn to speak, he needed to be spoken to, constantly, by everyone around him. That’s exactly what general education could give him that special education could not.

My child advocate strongly disagreed. “It’s not better to be bullied as a child, ever.” It was hard and painful logic to refute. I did not refute it, I just followed my heart. It’s all that I’ve done since I started on this path, and I’ve tripped and fallen plenty of times along the way, and that’s okay. However, I cannot afford to take my child down with me when I hit the pavement.

I tripped yesterday, like a child on a playground. This time, I wasn’t a child. I was a mother. A broken-hearted mother overcome with a hundred different emotions in one moment. As I listened to my son’s teacher gently break down for me that he’s struggling and that she’s struggling with him, so many feelings showed up. Initially, it was good-ol’-fashioned embarrassment. I know I don’t need to (nor should I) feel embarrassed over my son’s disability, but sometimes, I just do.

I was sad that this day had come, the one I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge as it lingered off ahead somewhere on the distant horizon of the future. This was the day my child advocate was trying to protect us from. While Henry wasn’t being kicked out of his general education preschool (he wasn’t even in trouble) this day now stood as a pillar along the rocky road I’ve been walking. It was a marker in time, a reminder, a reality check.

My son’s teacher wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help calm Henry down when he gets upset. She is the kindest soul and loves my son, and she just wants to help him, but I could see that she’s tired. I recognized that look of defeat. It’s the one you get where you’ve tried everything and it makes no difference at all. It was like looking in the mirror. She merely asked what I do at home when Henry gets upset and the ugly-cry face unleashed itself.

Her intentions were pure, and I’m so grateful that she came to me. I knew as soon as she began to speak that this conversation was different than the ones she has with other parents, because my son is different. There it is: cue the face. As if this returned realization was not enough to sufficiently and publicly upset me, there was still another layer of reality that I had to confront.

I didn’t have the answer to her question. I froze as if I’d just been called on in geography class while passing notes. Was this a trick question? Why couldn’t I answer it? It was a very straightforward inquiry. Yet I stared back at her with a vacuous expression and, like my son, I struggled to find the words I needed in that moment.

I couldn’t find them because they weren’t there. I don’t know how to calm my son down when he “melts down.” I try to comfort, love, and support him. I try to reprimand, discipline, and explain to him. I try to ignore, detach, and disengage. I try everything. To no avail.

I fail. I get pushed and kicked. I tear up, hold in, let go, and still, my son remains end-of-the-world level upset. It is defeating. It’s exhausting. It makes you want to give up.

What I didn’t have the composure to say to her in that moment is that I’ve spent the last three months of my life fighting tooth and nail to get my son behavioral therapy. I was too proud to tell her that we’d lost our health insurance over the summer. I was too emotional to explain that as certain behaviors have escalated, my family’s resources have dissipated like sand running through a child’s fingers. Instead, I just said, “It’s been hard,” and she understood.

I am left now with an emotional string tied around my index finger. It’s a conscious reminder of the changing tide, and of the knowledge that not a single one of us can predict or control it. No one can tell me what is right or what is best for my son. No one can tell me if it’s fair to his teacher or the other children to keep him there and for how long. At least not yet. Only time will tell.

It took Henry one year of general education preschool to begin speaking. It took him one year to make a friend. Not just a child who plays near him or alongside him, but a friend. An adorable little girl who is always by his side when I arrive to pick him up. His first friend, his first words, what are they worth? Are they worth risking potential bullying? Are they worth extra stress on his teachers? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Yesterday, I cried on the playground. Today my neck is frozen in a downward position. Even though it hurts, I must keep looking up. Life is marked with pain, regardless of the road you take. It’s a patient beacon that waits for us like rest stops along the highway of life, summoning us to pause for a moment to recall that we’re all lost travelers being led by unreliable navigation systems that are constantly rerouting.

While I have more work to do, more tears in store, and (God-forbid) more ugly cry faces waiting to be unleashed, there is no right or wrong answer. There is only my heart and his to navigate daily, until and if the time arrives to nudge our hearts in a new direction.

Yesterday was a hard day, but it’s not the end of the road. I know that I must continue on and that as long as I am looking up, I will see the signs that time will mark for me along this journey. While it may hurt at times, the pain is worth every detour, rest stop, and pothole. It’s worth every tear on the playground. It’s life, and it’ll be waiting patiently, next to me, when my son pauses to look up.

Parenting From the Pages of "The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook"

Now that I’m a father, I no longer feel ashamed of my anxiety. I feel responsible.

Tuesday, 1:23pm.

I’m hiding in the living room watching soccer on my iPad when Harry walks in dressed in a black ninja costume, plastic sword in hand. He looks for me underneath the end tables, inside the fireplace, and beside the couch.

“Daddy, where are you?”

Crouching behind a faux leather recliner no one in my family sits in, I breathe as quietly as possible. I clench every muscle.

Harry yells out my name, elongating both the first and second syllables. “Daaaaa-dddddy!”

My heart thumps. When I was a kid and anxiety threatened to overwhelm me, I would recite state capitals in alphabetical order: Montgomery, Alabama; Juneau, Alaska; Phoenix, Arizona. When that trick no longer did the trick, I switched to washing my hands 96 times a day. Then I switched to trimming the carpet in our living room with a pair scissors, taking great care with each individual carpet fiber.

Much later, I discovered alcohol and then marijuana, a drug that, for a time, I thought of as an old friend, one who could quiet my mind long enough for me to stop driving over the same stretch of highway 13 times in a row or rearranging my wallet, my keys, and my inhaler on the nightstand until I burst into tears because the items were never perfectly aligned.

Now, after I very nearly ruined my marriage, I take special medication and read everything I can get my hands on concerning how to cope with obsessive compulsive disorder. For example, Edmund J. Bourne, the author of “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, Fifth Edition,” suggests you “find an alternative, positive obsession.” So, at 38, I obsess about soccer in lieu of my son, a precocious four-year old who is used to me playing with him almost every hour of the day.

“Daaaaa-ddddddy!”

I hold my breath.

Harry screams like a banshee and then stomps into the dining room.

Alone again, I glance down at my iPad and refocus my attention on the soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, two top clubs in the prestigious English Premier League. I’ve already watched this game from beginning to end twice, so I know that Tottenham, the team that I arbitrarily decided to obsess over, loses 2-0 even though they retained possession of the ball 58 precent of the game and took 14 shots on goal, four of them on target. 

During my first viewing of the match, I took extensive notes. Total number of fouls committed: 27.  Corner kicks taken: 11. Yellow cards given: 5. I didn’t just jot down important statistics, I also wrote down detailed observations concerning Tottenham’s offensive and defensive strategies as well as how both could be improved. I wrote down rambling musings on the different coaching strategies employed; on the effects, both negative and positive, of the dreary weather in London on game day; of the betting odds. I did all of that, and yet, several days later and with my son desperate for my attention, I still feel compelled to watch every single play.

Harry yells my name once, twice, three times. I hear him kick something in the dining room, and then say, “I’m a dumb kid!”

Removing my earbuds, I peer around the corner of my hiding spot. My son is sitting Indian-style underneath the dining room table, repeating “I’m a dumb kid” over and over and over again. Lately, he’s been saying “I’m a dumb kid” a lot, and I feel directly responsible.

Since I was a child, there’s been a voice inside my head that says things like: I’m neurotic, I’m no good, something is really wrong with me. Bourne calls this “anxious self-talk,” which is “typically irrational but almost always sounds like the truth.”

My son is far from dumb. He can write most of his letters. He puts together Lego sets with minimal assistance. He can tell you what fossil fuels are (“dead dinosaurs that you put in your car”), and how all the dinosaurs became extinct (“a huge asteroid hit the Earth and killed them”).

In a study published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, researchers discovered that the higher the level of worry in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, the higher the intelligence. I think about this as my son continues to berate himself.

“Harry, don’t say that, please. You’re not dumb,” I tell him from behind the recliner.

“Where are you, Daddy? I can’t see you.”

I watch my child, who begins telling his sword a complicated story involving a green ninja named Eric (the boy’s favorite uncle is named Eric), a one-eyed monster, and a pit of lava.

“I’m Ninja Eric and I’ll hit the monster and throw him in the lava and he’ll die because good guys kill the bad guys and the good guys win and I’m a good guy.” He makes an explosion sound with his mouth, sending spittle flying onto the floor. “You’re in the lava now, monster! It’s so hot! You’re gonna die!”

Just like that, I forget about soccer, my so-called positive obsession. My brain shifts from the pulled hamstring of Harry Kane, Tottenham’s leading goal scorer, to Harry Huckleberry Everhart, my only son.

In “The Anxiety Book,” Jonathan Davidson, M.D., writes, “When you suffer from chronic anxiety, your internal police department, both biological and psychological, responds to false alarms every day, sometimes on an hourly basis.” Hiding behind the recliner, I can almost hear sirens over the sound of my son telling his macabre story. 

I engage in a lighting round of What If?, a game my central nervous system plays from time to time with or without my consent. What if Harry, like his father, becomes obsessed with death to the point where he finds it difficult to breathe and nearly impossible to do normal things such as go to school, make friends, or hold down a job?

What if Harry is never able to go back to school because instead of peacefully resolving conflicts with his peers he continues to yell, kick, hit, and throw things?

What if Harry ends up paralyzed by anxiety and turns to drugs and alcohol like his father once did?

What if Harry ends up drinking and smoking and snorting not because his peers are doing it, or because he’s craving a buzz or thinks it’s cool, but because he just wants – no, needs – to feel normal, to stop feeling jealous of every single other human being on this planet, all of whom seem to pass Algebra and visit the zoo and go out on dates without hyperventilating or sweating uncontrollably?    

I open my mouth to say something. Nothing comes out. I try to move but can’t. My eyes water, and, stupidly, I look down at my iPad. The game is approaching the 36th minute, which is when Shkodran Mustafi, one of Arsenal’s defensive players, scores a goal with his head. Having seen the replay nine times, I know that Mustafi is off-sides whenever he scores the goal, but the sideline referee doesn’t call it.

Five minutes ago, I would’ve cursed at the screen, fantasized about doing something wildly inappropriate to the referee’s house. But now, as I watch my son strike one of the chairs with his sword and call out, “Die,” I don’t give a damn about soccer. I give a damn about my son. I put my head in my hands and try to take some deep breaths.

“I found you!”

I open my eyes, and Harry slices the air with his plastic sword, the harmless blade missing my head by mere inches. “Daddy, why are you crying? Is it because your soccer team lost? Is that why you’re crying?”

I touch my son’s cheek. With his floppy brown hair, Bambi eyes, and smooth, olive complexion, he is an extremely attractive child. “Looks like his mother,” I often tell strangers who comment on his adorableness while we’re in the grocery store, “and thank God!”

“No,” I say, “it’s not that my soccer team lost.”

He frowns, pushes my hand away from his face. “Are you sad that you had to quit your job and take care of me? Because I was a dumb kid at 4K and kept being bad?”

My heart rate increases. I also suffer from atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart beat that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, affects approximately two percent of people under the age of 65. 

I don’t know what to do or what to say. Should I show him the 277 letters I’ve written to him, each one numbered, dated, and addressed to Harry Huckleberry, each one containing purple expressions of fatherly love alongside detailed descriptions of him and all the cute things he’s done? Or should I show him the list of positive self-talk statements I wrote down and keep in my wallet? Maybe I should read some of them aloud, so he would know that I am not a perfect father, but I love my son more than anything else and I strive to raise him the best way I know how. As he looks at me, I have no idea what to do.

Then I recall something from page 426 of “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook.”

“Patience,” Bourne writes, “means allowing things to unfold in their own natural time.” As I look into my son’s beautiful brown eyes, that’s what I decide to do: be patient.

“Harry,” I say, “from now on, whenever you say, ‘I’m a dumb kid,’ I’m going to give you an example of something cool I’ve seen you do. Got it?”

A mischievous grin appears on his face. “I’m a dumb kid,” he says, barely containing a laugh.

I walk into his bedroom and come back with an intricate airplane made of Lego pieces.

“You made this fighter jet for your ninjas last week,” I say. “You got a little frustrated putting the pieces in place, but you stuck with it and I’m proud of you for that. You’re a smart kid.”

His cheeks redden a bit, and then he swipes his sword at my hand, knocking the ninja airplane to the ground.

“Let’s play ninjas, Daddy!”

“I’m ready,” I say and stand up.

***

There was a time when I was ashamed of my chronic anxiety, even though 18 percent of the adult population suffers from it, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

There was a time when I would never have revealed to anyone how many therapists I’ve tried (five), or how many times I’ve worked through the exercises in “The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook” (seven), or how many times I’ve read and taken notes on “The Anxiety Book” (nine).

There was a time when I would’ve been extremely reluctant to reveal that I used to have daily panic attacks, and that every night I’d ask God to please not let me wake up in the morning, please just let me die.

There was a time when I would’ve been ashamed to confess that I take 10 mg of Buspar twice a day.

Fortunately, that time has past. Now that I’m a father, I no longer feel ashamed of my anxiety. I feel responsible. Perhaps it’s time I replaced soccer with a new positive obsession: sharing my story with others.

How Can You Prevent Trampoline Injury? Stop Treating it Like a Toy

The problem with trampolines isn’t so much safety as it is categorization. When we categorize trampolines as sports equipment, they look much different.

“Everyone wants to have fun. Everyone wants to have fun with their children. You think you are being a good parent, spending time with your child, having fun – and the next thing you know your whole life changes.”
So opens the first post on Alisha Carlo’s The Fracture Factory, a blog where “it’s all fun and games until your kneecaps end up in your thighs.”
Carlo chronicles her family’s experiences with a local trampoline park – from her sister’s ACL tear, to Carlo’s self-imposed ban on family trips to the park, to her husband Jamie’s flouting of that ban, to Jamie’s bi-lateral patella tendon rupture (that’s a double kneecap injury) and long recovery.
The titular “Fracture Factory” comes from one of the nicknames the local hospital uses for the trampoline park. Others call it “The Fractury,” and some joke that the hospital’s surgeons must have invested in the trampoline park.
Carlo’s story has taught me all manner of things I wish I didn’t know. I now know to always read the seemingly routine liability waivers at family fun centers before signing. The waiver for the trampoline park near my home, for example, tells me that “Participants may die or become paralyzed, partially or fully, through their use of the Sky Zone facility and participation in Sky Zone activities.”
I now know that trampoline park injuries are on the rise, from 581 to 6,932 between 2010 and 2014. I now can’t un-know what kneecaps look like when they’re six inches out of place. In short, I now know to avoid trampolines.
At the same time, I’m also sensitive to the problems caused by campaigns to “boost awareness.” Many of these campaigns are problematic because the resulting awareness makes people scared of non-existent threats. I’ve made that argument about many awareness campaigns, whether the focus is moldy Sophiespuffy coats, or E. coli in raw cookie dough.
Trampolines may be one of the rare cases when parents actually need more awareness.

As toys, trampolines cause injury

Healthychildren.org, the parent-oriented website run by the American Academy of Pediatrics, offers simple advice about trampolines: “Don’t buy a trampoline for your home!”
Actually, the advice is even broader. The AAP recommends against trampolines in gym classes and on playgrounds and asserts that trampolines belong in “supervised training programs” only. That advice may seem like an overreaction to parents, especially when the most popular home trampolines have thousands of positive Amazon reviews.
It’s difficult to determine the overall risks posed by trampolines because we’re missing a denominator. As Slate’s Melinda Wenner Moyer points out, we have an estimate of how many injuries occur to kids under age 18.
In 2016, there were an estimated 103,512 emergency department visits as a result of trampolines. Although we could probably figure out how many trampolines are sold in the U.S., that number doesn’t tell us how safe trampolines are because we don’t know who exactly is jumping on them, or for how long.
Imagine, for example, that there were only 103,512 trampolines. In 2016, that would have meant an average one injury per trampoline. That would be pretty concerning.
But imagine there were 20 million trampolines, or, as Wenner Moyer suggests, 20 million trampoline jumping hours per trampoline. That would be concerning, but perhaps no more dangerous than many other forms of entertainment.
Without data on trampoline ownership and use, Wenner Moyer instead relies on injury rates. She compares the injury rates for playground equipment to the injury rates for trampolines and finds there were actually fewer playground injuries in 2016 than trampoline injuries.
“I don’t have any data on this,” Wenner Moyer admits, “but I suspect that American kids collectively spend a lot more time climbing on playgrounds than they do jumping on trampolines.”
It’s hard to determine exactly what proportion of trampoline users are likely to get injured, but it seems that they are being injured at a higher rate than playground users. Their resulting injuries tend to be more severe than those sustained on the playground.
Injuries like Carlo’s husband’s double patella tendon rupture aren’t freak accidents, but consequences of the physics of trampolines. As Wenner Moyer explains, if a young child lands on the trampoline just after it has moved upward from another jumper, the force is strong enough to break that child’s legs.
Wenner Moyer is not a killjoy out to ruin your fun with trampolines. She’s both an owner of a mini trampoline and a parent to young children, now “panic-wondering” about whether or not a trampoline constitutes an acceptable risk.
The goal of her excellent piece “is not to scare you into dumping your trampoline in the garbage; the point is to provide you with facts so that whatever decision you make will be informed, and so that you can minimize the danger by setting a few guidelines if you want.”

As sporting equipment, trampolines prevent injury

After reading about Carlo’s family’s experiences and Wenner Moyer’s analysis of trampoline safety, I won’t be buying a trampoline. My concern is not that trampolines are dangerous. Like Wenner Moyer, I see the value in kids’ risky play.
The problem with trampolines isn’t so much safety as it is categorization. Wenner Moyer categorized trampolines as toys, comparing them to playground equipment. But what if that’s the wrong comparison?
When we categorize trampolines as sporting equipment rather than toys, they start to look much different. Trampolines aren’t viewed as a danger to athletes. In fact, they’re often considered a safety device.
When you think of Olympic diving practice, you probably picture a pool. Most professional divers, however, do significant amounts of dry-land training. The training is, in part, a response to practical problems: If you can’t rent time at a swimming pool, you can still practice on the trampoline. But trampolines also help divers avoid injury while practicing new techniques.
Divers are not simply bouncing around. They use specialized equipment that allows them to practice dives without impact. Unlike amateur trampolinists, divers use spotting rigs when they practice on the trampoline, which allows them to perform complicated moves in safety. Essentially, they’re training at a Sky Zone…except they have safety equipment.
Divers aren’t the only Olympians who use trampolines as safe training devices. Freestyle aerial skiers put in a lot of practice on the trampoline before attempting their skills at death-defying heights.
One group that doesn’t use the trampoline to practice new skills is Olympic trampoliners. They practice new skills while firmly planted on the ground.

How to trampoline like a serious athlete

When treated as a toy, a trampoline can lead to serious injury and occasionally death. When treated as a piece of sporting equipment, a trampoline can make a dangerous sport less dangerous.
Parents and kids who want to keep their trampolines might do well to follow the safety guidelines that athletes do. For example, many athletes practice with a safety harness until they have mastered a particular skill.
Although a safety harness may not be a practical solution for home trampoline use, the following three safety rules can dramatically reduce the risk of injury:

1 | Jump one person at a time

This is the rule most likely to be broken by at-home users and the cause of the majority of trampoline-related injuries. If you review the Olympic training videos above, you’ll see that serious athletes never break this rule. That’s because there is real danger to life and limb when multiple people use a trampoline at the same time.

2 | Make it impossible to fall

Athletes don’t get injured from falling off trampolines. That’s not because athletes are better trained than backyard trampoliners. It’s because there is often nowhere to fall. Athletic training facilities use foam pits and other padded surfaces that make falling from a trampoline impossible.

3 | Don’t jump without supervision

A coach or trainer should always watching.
If your child complains about these rules, you can always remind her that following them may get her to the Olympics.

No, Teens Are Not Eating Laundry Pods

All of this media attention is already infuriating for the way it maligns all teenagers as reckless and stupid.

Have you had a very important conversation with your teens about the proper use of household cleaners?

That’s the message of load after load of news reports about the latest internet craze, the “Tide Pod Challenge.” The resulting waves of panic stem from a January 16 report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers about the increase in teenagers exposed to Tide Pods. According to that report, there have been 39 reported cases of intentional single-use laundry packet exposure among teenagers in 2018.

That number does represent a rise over previous years. In fact, there have been as many cases reported in January 2018 than there were in all of 2016. That increase has led concerned parents, YouTube personalities, and one NFL player to discourage teens from eating the pods.

All of this media attention is already infuriating for the way it maligns all teenagers as reckless and stupid. Even if the coverage wasn’t washing over teens’ motivations for taking the challenge, and even if it wasn’t stoking so much unnecessary fear about household objects, it would still be inaccurate because it’s just not clear that teens are actually eating the pods.

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a story with the headline “Yes, People Really Are Eating Tide Pods. No, It’s Not Safe,” making it one more news outlet in a chorus raising the alarm. NBC News attempted to explain “Why some teens are intentionally ingesting Tide pods.” Mashable, while reasonably suggesting that we all calm down about laundry packet exposure, slipped into the same linguistic trap in the second half of its headline: “Very, very very few teens are trying to eat Tide Pods.

All of this news coverage makes two issues clear: no one agrees about the capitalization of “Tide Pod,” and everyone is similarly confused about the definition of eating.

Nearly all of the articles and television segments covering Tide Pods quote the AAPCC’s assertion about how dangerous single-use laundry packets are: “The resulting health implications from misuse can be serious. Known potential effects include seizure, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma, and even death.”

All of these consequences of swallowing single-use laundry packets have been observed among pediatric and elderly populations. As of yet, we have no knowledge of which symptoms were reported by the teenagers included in the AAPCC report. So, is it just a matter of time before one enterprising YouTuber takes the challenge too far?

That’s possible, of course, but highly unlikely. Knowyourmeme, which offers the most exhaustive timeline of the Tide Pod Challenge, demonstrates that for years it was merely a satirical suggestion, perhaps brought on by the very medical studies that found a rise in laundry detergent injuries among children. The challenge appears to have been issued in July 2017 by a Redditor who offered others to bite into the pods.

Biting appears to be what most of the people in the videos were doing.

Most of the YouTube laundry pod challenges have been taken down, so we cannot be completely assured that no teens were attempting to eat the pods on camera. There are still compilation videos to be found for the curious. In those compilations, people are definitely biting.

That behavior is consistent with the average YouTube “challenge” video, where eating is not always the goal. What sells are people biting into something and then sputtering and gasping as they spit it out. Other videos in the challenge oeuvre demonstrate that participants rarely swallow the item: the clicks and shares appear to stem from the spewing clouds of cinnamon, hot pepper, or, now, laundry detergent.

Why does it matter that teens are only biting the pods? When we claim teens are eating the pods, we make the situation sound more dangerous than it is. Children who bite into a pod aren’t likely to understand that liquid will gush out of it. Surprised, they sometimes swallow the detergent, which can lead to escalating and extremely dangerous injuries. Teens who bite into a pod know exactly what’s going to happen, which is why they are filming themselves doing it.